The Irish President, Michael D Higgins, has just signed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill into law. The move means that the Supreme Court will not test the constitutional vigour of the law and that it may be challenged in the court in the future. It also means an end to the uncertainty caused by the President’s move to convene the Council of State – a precursor to a constitutional test.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill brings an end to the legal limbo caused by a Supreme Court ruling in 1992, which allowed women to travel to the UK for abortions if there was a “real and substantial risk” to life, rather than health. A failure to legislate following the ruling, and subsequent attempts to alter the ruling through referenda led to uncertainty among the medical profession and, finally, to a ruling from The European Court of Human Rights in 2010 which forced the Irish State to decide the issue once and for all.
Under the new legislation, women will be entitled to an abortion in Ireland if their life is in danger. This includes medical emergencies, terminal illness, or if the woman is feeling suicidal. The facts of each case will have to be agreed upon by a small panel of medical professionals, including psychiatrists in the case of suicide risks.